US Election interactive

I’ve spent the last week or two battling with the vizRT scripting interfaces. We produced a creditable output in the end, but it wasn’t the easiest of jobs. This was the interactive interface on a 100″ Panasonic display that Martin Stanford used on the Sky News election evening. Przemek Pluta did the graphics animation and most of the scripting. I’ve been teaching Przemek how to program and this project seemed to get him into a higher gear. I did the producers interface using Adobe Air which allowed the results to be input and sent to the vizRT machine.

The graphics were mainly the usual US Map, but there were various data files behind the scenes which allowed Martin to show the commentary before and after the results were in.
Martin was able to choose any state to look at interactively, and could also play through various scenarios and have the system calculate the totals for Obama and McCain for each. The data had been put into the system using the Flex/Air interface. I actually used Google docs to allow the journalists to put in their data, but wasn’t entirely succesful. The RSS feeds from Google don’t seem to be able to cope with strings with commas in them. The RSS feed kept getting extra fields for most formats that I tried. It was good to have the ease of remote editing but in the end, I used an alternative site to convert it to XML. I dumped the data as csv, (which did do the commas correctly) then I used the converter at Creativyst to convert to XML. If you put in what you want as the field headings, the data is output in perfectly formed XML with all the correct tags.

The Viz machine was using version 3 software, which supposedly helped the scripting side. Partly true. It did give us some more scripting abilities, but they don’t use the same ActiveX routines as the older software, which meant we had to write our own DOM handler for decoding the XML files. It was good to have some improved animation facilities and the output was top class, with no rendering glitches. The whole screen was then put into a virtual set using a second Viz (running v2.8) so we had a lot going on. The main screen had an infrared touch screen frame added on top of the main screen. Once the drivers were set up correctly, it worked well. I’ll try and add a video clip at some point.

We didn’t spend quite as much as CNN with their false ‘holograms’ but we did it for a lot less. Expect to see more interaction once they put the big touch screen into the main News set early next year.

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